FUKUOKA - The 1-2 punch of world champion Nathan Chen and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou propelled the United States into the lead on the opening day of the World Team Trophy on Thursday at Marine Messe.
Chen rang up a tally of 101.95 points in his short program, while Zhou scored 100.51 in his to help the U.S. earn a total of 50 points in the six-nation team competition.
Shoma Uno is in third place with 92.78, behind Chen and Zhou.
Strong efforts by Rika Kihira and Kaori Sakamoto have Japan in second place with 48 points, while Russia is third with 38.
Kihira put on a fantastic performance and leads after the women’s short program with 83.97. Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is second at 80.54, while Sakamoto is in third on 76.95.
Chen skated to “Caravan” and leads despite attempting just one quad. He opened his program with a nice triple axel, then hit a quad toe loop and went on to add a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination.
The 19-year-old from Salt Lake City earned level fours on his spins and step sequence and looks poised to add the title here to the world championship he won in Saitama last month.
“It’s so different from worlds, but I’m still in pretty good condition,” Chen stated, when asked about his motivation level for the event. “Knowing that worlds was the peak of the season, I just want to give my body a little bit of time to recover so I can start fresh from next season and start offseason training.”
Chen’s first trip to Japan came back in 2013 for the Junior Grand Prix Final here, where he took the bronze medal in the event won by China’s Jin Boyang.
“It’s crazy to think of how things have changed and progressed over the course of five years,” Chen commented. “From the second year I was in the Junior Grand Prix circuit until now, it’s awesome. I was competing against Shoma at that time, and Vincent before that in the U.S. It’s amazing to see these athletes who came up with me be dominant in the field in 2019.”
Zhou competed to “Exogenesis Symphony Part III” and wowed the crowd with a huge quad lutz/triple toe loop to start. He followed that with a quad salchow and also landed a triple axel.
Zhou’s score marked a career high for the 18-year-old from San Jose, California. He hit triple digits despite only receiving a level three on his step sequence.
“I thought the quad lutz might have been under-rotated, but the judges didn’t think so,” Zhou mentioned. “I know I can do it better. Everything else was fairly clean in the program.”
Uno used the music from “Winter in Four Seasons” for his program and hit a quad flip at the outset. He struggled on his quad toe loop/double toe loop combo, however, needing an extra step or two to complete it.
Uno received level fours for his spins, but also got just a level three for his step sequence.
“My jumps were not good. The flip I barely made and the toe loop I had to try very hard not to fall,” Uno said. “But compared to the worlds, I don’t think I practiced hard enough to say I am very disappointed.”
Uno credited Kihira and Sakamoto for boosting the host nation.
“Japan is in a very good place now thanks to the other skaters,” Uno remarked. “My role should have been to put Japan in an even better position, and I wasn’t able to do that so I feel really bad.”
Kihira skated to “Clair de Lune” and was absolutely sublime, exhibiting nice line and edge throughout her program after opening it with a huge triple axel.
The Grand Prix Final champion received level fours on her spins and step sequence.
What a difference a few weeks makes. If Kihira had skated like this last month in Saitama, she would be the world champion. But it was an outstanding outing this day by the 16-year-old and the crowd rewarded her with a heartfelt standing ovation
“Compared to the worlds and Grand Prix Final, I had better focus on my jumps today and in this kind of relaxed competition it was good,” Kihira stated. “I think that was one of my best axels. Usually I overthink about the entry to my course, but today I checked my course and was able to do it. I resolved to get it right this time.”
Kihira’s score was a career high for the short program, something she was not expecting.
“I thought I might get around 80 points, but I was really surprised when the score was posted,” Kihira said.
Tuktamysheva competed to “Assassin’s Tango” and made it clear she was going to be all business by hitting a big triple axel to start. Her score was a season’s best and likely helped to salve the wound of being left off Russia’s team for the worlds at the last minute.
Tuktamysheva also earned level fours on her spins and step sequence.
“I did all my jumps in practice and feel like I was more relaxed,” Tuktamysheva stated. “This is the last competition of the season, and I feel like I had not shown everything. Everybody knows how my season ended (not being selected for Russia’s team for the worlds), I wanted to finish the short program with a very strong performance and I hope I can do the same for the free skate.”
Sakamoto performed to “From My First Moment” and was solid from start to finish, while also notching a career-best tally. She opened with a fine triple flip/triple toe loop combo and posted level fours for her spins and step sequence.
“Thanks to intense practice I was able to go in very calm today and that helped. All of my jumps went well,” Sakamoto commented. “I actually usually do very good in my short program, but now I need to focus for the next two days to make sure I maintain my concentration going into the free skate.”
Sakamoto noted that it was nice to be on the same team with Kihira for once.
“When Rika was performing, I could hear the audience really cheering, and that told me she had landed the axel,” Sakamoto remarked. “That made me think I have to put in a really good performance as well. Rika is somebody that I usually compete against, but now that we are doing this team event I knew that I needed to work with her and that actually gave me good energy.”
France grabbed the early lead in the competition when world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won the rhythm dance with 87.31. The victory was worth 12 points.
The World Team Trophy continues on Friday with the pairs short program, free dance and men’s free skate.